Mulberry Lane – fifty years later
In early August of 1961 our family moved into our very first new house in the 2800 block of Mulberry Lane. It was a three bedroom, two bath ranch house on a barren postage stamp lot in a subdivision built on what were once strawberry fields near what was then, the southern city limit of Pasadena. Sprigs of St. Augustine grass and a forlorn six foot sapling was staked in the front yard. Vacant lots, concrete slabs and houses under construction dominated the east side of the street but most important of all, just two houses down from ours, lived the family of David Petersen.
David’s dad Dean worked as a manager for Phillips petroleum. His mother Ruby worked as a registered nurse and his younger brothers Danny and Donny provided me and Rick with the beginnings of a neighborhood gang. Between our houses lived a young couple Phil and Kay Carson who had two toddlers. Mac and Mom hit it off well with Dean and Ruby as well as the Carsons and the deal was sealed.
Good fences make good neighbors and one of our first neighborhood projects was the construction of six foot cedar fences defining the backyard boundaries of all three houses. Mac, Phil and Dean dug post holes and poured Sacrete around the base of eight foot four by fours. While they joined the posts with two by fours, David, Danny and me nailed one by six cedar planks on either side in an open vertical lattice that allowed the wind to pass through the fence. With occasional tropical storms and Blue Northers any fence in Texas that wasn’t open to the wind was doomed to fall. We completed the project in one weekend and celebrated with cocktails, beer, steaks, soft drinks, hot dogs and hamburgers!
Watching David and Danny play baseball and football filled me with envy. They were both natural athletes and even though I was a year older than Danny, he was a couple of inches taller and outweighed me by twenty pounds. Growing up a farm boy, to Mac’s mind any exercise that wasn’t part of real work was wasted time and energy. He knew nothing about sports. Thank heaven David and Danny took me under their wings.
Strawberry Park was less than two blocks east as the crow flies. It had two baseball diamonds, with tennis courts and an Olympic pool under construction. In 1960 a syndicated TV show Home Run Derby featured the great Mickey Mantle along with other future Hall of Fame power hitters in competition to see who could hit the most home runs in three at bats. Now the summer of 1961 is steeped in Yankees’ baseball history and by the end of June Mantle and Roger Maris were both on track to break 34-year-old Major League season record of sixty home runs held by Yankee legend Babe Ruth. It was only natural that after breakfast every morning we all raced over to the Little League diamond to hit as many home runs as we could.
By 8:30 in the morning temperatures were in the high 80’s with relative humidity running over 90%. Dressed only in tee-shirts and cutoffs, and as often as not barefoot, we played straight through to lunch. After lunch we’d return to the field and play until the Little League teams showed up for practice. After dinner we’d gather up the entire neighborhood gang including the Lambert brothers and using an old tennis ball so the little kids wouldn’t get hurt, we played seven man sand lot games on the vacant lots across the street.
Other than Saturdays and Sundays when we skied on the San Jacinto River, this was our week day routine. To make our derby competition more even, Danny and I handicapped David’s at bats – his home runs didn’t count unless they went out over the light wires. At first I lost every time we played but during our endless hours of batting practice, I steadily improved. I could choose my pitch, watch the ball into the bat and put line drives over the fence. What was a rare accident five months before now became muscle memory.
By mid September I could drive the ball 250 feet, nothing compared to David’s towering hits that sailed over the wires and easily flew over 300 feet, but so much better than I’d ever done before. In the meantime, Mantle was sidelined with a hip injury and had a season total of 54 home runs while the younger Maris broke Ruth’s record with his 61st homerun during the last game of the season on October 1st.
Starry, Starry Nights:
At least once a week after dinner on Friday or Saturday nights David and I stayed up late playing chess and watching old science fiction movies on TV. More often than not I spent the night sleeping on the floor of his bedroom; and after the Peterson family was settled in, we’d pop the screen on his bedroom window and crawl out onto the roof of the two story house. It was the ritual completion our long day together. Two boys lying on warm asphalt shingles looking up at the night sky, we whispered about what we wanted to do with the future – not quite Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in the graveyard, but close enough.
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